Feeding the Soul
By MAUREEN HAYDEN Courier & Press staff writer 464-7433 or email@example.com
When the congregation of St. Peter's United Church of Christ gathers Wednesday, it will receive a visible sign marking a period of prayer and reflection.
For some, the Ash Wednesday service will also begin a period of partial fasting - the abstention from certain types of food. It's a Lenten tradition more often associated with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, but St. Peter's pastor said there are Protestants who embrace the tradition.
"The challenge for us all is to look at rituals and take them to a deeper level,'' said the Rev. Elisabeth Baer. "(Fasting) allows you to ask yourself, 'What am I doing that impedes my relationship with God?'"
Abstaining from some or all food and drink for a period of time for spiritual reasons has a long history and can be found in religious traditions around the world.
Roman Catholics begin a period of partial fasting Wednesday (beginning the penitential season of Lent) and, for several area churches, a series of Friday fish fries that allows members to both keep the rule of meatless Fridays and raise money for their parishes. Also beginning today is a 19-day period of fasting for members of the Baha'i faith. It lasts for 19 days (a month in the Baha'i calendar) and precedes the Baha'i New Year. For Baha'is, the period of fasting from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset is intended to give believers a constant awareness of God and their reliance upon him. It's one of several types of fasts observed by different religions. The four most common are the supernatural fast, going without any food or water for longer than three days; an absolute fast, where no water or food is taken for up to three days; a normal fast, where food and drink are severely limited; and a partial fast, from which certain types of food and drink are abstained.
Fasts serve different purposes in different religions, but there are common themes: as a purification of the soul, as preparation to atone for sins, as a reminder of dependence on a supernatural power or as a way to petition God. nsight into the tradition for Christians and Jews comes from looking at the Hebrew words for fasting in the Old Testament: "Som," which means "to cover one's mouth," and "anah," meaning "to humble one's self."
Fasting has undergone a revival among some Christians, whose Protestant tradition had minimized the ritual, said Baer.
"Sometimes the fasting isn't from food but from bad habits," said Baer, whose church is offering a series of classes over the next few months on how to improve your spiritual, mental and physical health. "Some chose to forgo the habits that make us slothful and keep us from experiencing daily the love of God."
In the book "Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough," evangelical Christian author Elmer L. Towns traces the history of fasting through the Old and New Testaments and describes the nine kinds of what he calls biblical fasting, citing biblical characters and their fasts. Each has its own intent. They are:
The Disciples' Fast: to break sins and addiction.
Ezra's Fast: to solve problems. Samuel's Fast: for soul-winning. Elijah's Fast: to overcome bad habits. The Widow's Fast: to care for the needy. St. Paul's Fast: to make decisions and gain insight. Daniel's Fast: for healing and physical health.
John the Baptist's Fast: for testimony and witnessing.
Esther's Fast: for protection. In some faith traditions, it's a spiritual and political statement.
The Hindu spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi used a fast taken almost to death's door - to inspire his followers to observe his principles of nonviolence during India's struggle for freedom from England. A more modern example: In recent weeks, a wide range of religious and denominational leaders have called on Americans to engage in prayer and fasting to prevent a war with Iraq.
©Copyright 2003, Evansville Courier & Press (KY, USA)
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